There is such a sick, simple pleasure to A&E’s “Parking Wars,” which returns for a fifth season Saturday night — the perfect dose of schadenfreude and vicarious comeuppance.
Random Philadelphians (and, in these new episodes, unlucky parkers in Detroit and Providence, R.I.) receive and then rage against the $20 to $30 tickets placed on their windshields by the artists formerly known as meter maids. A viewer softly cheers as those immobilizing “boot” restraints are clamped hard on the wheels of repeat offenders. The only thing that could make me happier about the show is if all the cars in it had Maryland or Virginia plates. (Joke!) [Wink.]
I love “Parking Wars,” especially as March approaches and a District of Columbia parking enforcer will resume her early-morning midweek tyranny in my neighborhood, where residents must move their cars for alternate-side street sweepings. After all these years, my relationship with parking tickets is no longer bilious. Indeed, I’ve reached a blithe acceptance of them in my life (such is their frequency), and I pay them promptly, calmly, online. I’m in a permanent zone of Zen and citi-zen.
“Parking Wars,” you see, is a gift to those people who still believe the rules should apply to everyone. It roots for the enforcer rather than the scofflaw; in 85 episodes, I can’t remember any “Parking Wars” showdown in which I sided with the violator. Much of “Parking Wars’s” early seasons took place in a dreary, interminable line at Philadelphia’s tow yard, where owners demanded the immediate release of their cars yet failed again and again to produce proof of registration, paid fines, insurance coverage. Too bad for them.
Interestingly, the word “Nazi” gets thrown around a bit when the violators deliver one of “Parking Wars’s” frequent tirades. But that’s wildly inappropriate (as most Nazi metaphors are), because parking hassles do not in any way approximate life under the Third Reich.
Yet the show does hint at something uncomfortably fragile in our civic structure. Watch closely as blue-collar city employees, acting on The Man’s behalf, dole out fines in neighborhoods where the parkers are often ethnically, racially and socioeconomically like themselves, hardly able to afford further fines. The violators make reference to a horrible betrayal here, wondering how one human could do this (write a ticket) to another human. They refuse to pay and instead attempt to shame the ticket-writer.
Fat lotta good that does them. The new Detroit episodes are a particular treat, as a pair of parking enforcers named Courtney and Michele hunt the streets in their camera-equipped van waiting for the database to automatically flag license plates of cars whose owner has multiple unpaid fines.
Courtney and Michele refer to themselves as the “bootylicious crew,” named after the boot, their beloved instrument of torture. When the owner comes out and yells at them, it’s quickly apparent that he has messed with the wrong women; the bootylicious crew is professionally deaf to lamentation.
“Parking Wars” smartly chooses to follow only the good-humored, fair-minded, frequently empathetic ticket-writers. These diligent workers come across as a vital piece of municipal order; without them, it’s chaos in the streets. The same sort of selective editing makes the violators all look like entitled brats or unhinged lunatics. It’s a tossup as to who’s playing to the camera more.
Life on the streets is much more complicated, of course, with shades as gray as the curb. Some of us, perhaps still seething from miscarriages of traffic-court justice, have become self-anointed parking fairies — the sort of people who will plunk spare change into strangers’ about-to-expire meters, which is a benevolent (if illegal) act of pay-it-forward. There are also those of us who have been known to call 311 to rat out a neighbor’s illegally parked vehicle. “Parking Wars” appeals to both, while favoring the latter.
Just remember that enjoying the misery of others comes with a karmic fine. Rack up enough of those, and soon enough, the boot’s on you.
(two episodes, 30 minutes each) returns Saturday at 9 p.m. on A&E.